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Revamped ULM coaching staff goes long on experience
Paul Letlow
pletlow@monroe.gannett.com

August 8, 2004

When Charlie Weatherbie was close to taking his current job at Louisiana-Monroe, a high-ranking school official remarked that the candidate "looked like a Division I-A coach."

Now heading into his second season as head football coach at ULM, Weatherbie has assembled a staff that has the same "I-A look."

"I'm excited about the guys we've got," Weatherbie said. "The proof is in the pudding. But I really believe that the players are excited about it. You get a fresh start on things. It helps the mental edge of the game."

ULM asked Weatherbie keep the existing staff in place when hiring the former Utah State and Navy coach in the spring of 2003. Because of the timing of the hire and circumstances surrounding the sudden departure of former head coach Mike Collins, the stipulation seemed reasonable.

"It was a different situation than I've been involved with before," said Weatherbie, who led Utah State and Navy to bowl games before arriving in Monroe.

ULM's head coach was able to make some hires before his first year, including veteran assistant Bob Leahy and Danilo Robinson, a former player and coach under Weatherbie. But following a 1-11 campaign, Weatherbie knew drastic changes were needed - he fired three coaches one day after the season and let another one go a few weeks later. A fifth assistant, defensive backs coach Tim Rebowe, resigned last spring to take a job at Louisiana-Lafayette. The moves gave Weatherbie a chance to assemble a coaching team that fit his style - a style that turned around sagging programs at Utah State and Navy.

"When somebody takes over a business or a job," Weatherbie said, "they want to put in place their philosophy and the type people they want in those places."

I-A ALL THE WAY

By thinking outside the box and hiring Weatherbie in 2003 ULM expanded its horizons.

When Bobby Keasler assembled his first coaching staff in 1999, he failed to bring in one coach with Division I-A seasoning outside of Monroe. Only Pat Lambert and Mike Collins, who served on Ed Zaunbrecher's staff at ULM, had even coached full time at a I-A program. Although he had been successful at McNeese State, Keasler's circle of influence came from Division I-AA.

The same can't be said today. Including Weatherbie, the current staff has worked a combined 70 seasons as full-time coaches at schools now classified as Division I-A. Additionally, the associate head coach Leahy (two USFL seasons, three NFL seasons) and defensive coordinator Bob Trott (five NFL seasons) own an additional combined 10 years of pro football coaching experience.

"Look at this staff and compare it to any around the country," said ULM's first-year offensive coordinator Todd Berry, the former head coach at Army. "I think it's as good a staff as any. There is a lot of experience within the staff as a whole. It comes from programs that have had success in the past."

Weatherbie has blended a staff that should generate a new way of thinking at Malone Stadium.

"Knowing they've coached and played at the next level and some of them in the NFL, they do have experience," ULM senior defensive end Brandon Guillory said. "Hopefully they can pass it along to us."

THE WISE ONES

Although Berry had a tough run as head coach at Army, he established himself as a top offensive innovator at East Carolina from 1991-95 and as head coach at I-AA Illinois State, where his team averaged 36 points per game one season.

A former Tulsa quarterback himself, Berry has experience directing offenses that feature passers and rushers. His coaching stops include Tennessee, Tulsa, Oklahoma State and Mississippi State, among others.

Defensive coordinator Bob Trott, hired by Collins in the spring of 2003 and retained by Weatherbie, owns an intriguing mix of I-A and NFL experience.

"Coach Trott is someone I've known for a while," Weatherbie said. "He is a guy I would have hired at that position."

Under Trott, Clemson led the nation in total defense. He has been defensive coordinator at five I-A programs, including Clemson and Arkansas. From 1991-95, Trott was an NFL assistant with the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. His coaching family tree includes Bill Parcells, Al Groh, Ken Hatfield and Fred Goldsmith.

Bob Leahy is no rookie either. He dabbled in pro football as receivers coach of the USFL's Michigan Panthers in the 1980s. Ever heard of Bobby Hebert? He was a Leahy disciple while leading the Panthers to the USFL championship. Leahy has coached at Pittsburgh, Washington State, California and Oklahoma State. He was the Minnesota Vikings receivers coach in 1984 and offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills in 1985-86.

"Wisdom is accumulated knowledge," Berry said. "We've got on offense, a lot of knowledge coming from different areas."

YOUNG GUNS

Even the young guys have seen big-time football from the inside.

"I think there's a good mixture of experience and youth here," Trott said. "You need to have that."

ULM's new cornerbacks coach is Greg Jackson, a former All-American defensive back at LSU. Jackson played 12 years in the NFL with the Giants, Eagles, Saints and Chargers.

"He's a guy with a wealth of experience as a player," Weatherbie said. "He had a chance to go to the NFL but he wants to coach college football. Having played at LSU and being from Louisiana helps in recruiting. He had instant credibility with the players because of what he's done."

Jackson coached in the Sun Belt Conference last season, helping Idaho improve to No. 31 nationally in pass defense a year after ranking 111.

"This can turn around quickly," Jackson said. "The talent that we have here is unbelievable. It's just a matter of getting the right people together with the right coaches, which is what Coach Weatherbie has done."

Jackson played for the New York Giants when Trott was coaching there.

"He was always a player-coach too," Trott said. "The fact that I knew him and had worked with him helped."

New tight ends coach Luke Wells played quarterback at Oklahoma from 1997-99. A student-assistant for the Sooners from 1999-2001, Wells has a circle of influence that includes Bob Stoops, Mike Leach, Mark Mangino and Chuck Long. Wells was a graduate assistant at ULM last year.

Running backs coach Junior Smith is the leading rusher in East Carolina history after gaining 3,745 yards when Berry was offensive coordinator there. He also played professionally in the Canadian Football League as a member of the Shreveport Pirates. His coaching career began at Illinois State under Berry in 1998. After following Berry to Army in 2000, Smith helped running back Michael Wallace become one of eight backs in school history to run for more than 1,000 yards.

New offensive line coach Steve Farmer came to ULM from Eastern Michigan, a school that competes in the Division I-A Mid-America Conference. His offensive line paved the way for running back Anthony Sherrell to run for 1,531 yards - an Eastern Michigan school record. Farmer played for and coached under Berry at Illinois State, where he was an All-Gateway Conference performer and a team captain.

"These guys (Smith and Farmer) had ties with Todd Berry," Weatherbie said. "It's very important to have that continuity and that they see eye to eye. There's not a learning curve."

Robinson was one of the first coaches Weatherbie brought in last year. He played for Weatherbie at Utah State and joined his staff at Navy. Robinson was a two-time All-Big West selection as a defensive end during his playing days. During five years at the Naval Academy, Robinson coached linebackers, served as defensive coordinator of the junior varsity team, and coached the offensive line. After coaching defensive ends in 2003, Robinson will coach linebackers.

Another key addition to the athletic staff is Kim Sword, the school's new strength and conditioning coach. Sword was an assistant at Utah State when Weatherbie coached in Logan, Utah. Sword went on to become head strength coach at Utah State, San Jose State and UCLA before arriving in Monroe. He even turned down an offer to go to Michigan State two weeks after beginning work at ULM.

"I think you'll see a remarkable change in the physical attributes of our kids," Weatherbie said.

THE SURVIVORS

As he retooled his staff, Weatherbie saw the need for some continuity - especially in recruiting. Defensive line coach Manny Michel, who is starting his sixth season at ULM, survived the postseason purge after proving his work ethic and recruiting ability to Weatherbie. A former high coach and I-AA assistant, Michel has statewide recruiting connections, especially in South Louisiana. A former player and assistant at John Curtis High School, Michel entered collegiate coaching after serving as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Nicholls State.

"Coach Michel brings a wealth of experience and he's a heck of a coach," Weatherbie said. "He recruits down in New Orleans, which he knows very well and the coaches know him very well."

Weatherbie also promoted former graduate assistant Josh Brooks to Director of Football operations. Brooks attended LSU from 1998-2002, where worked with the Tigers football team as a student assistant. LSU participated in the Peach Bowl in 2001, then won the SEC championship and played in the Sugar Bowl in 2002.

Video coordinator Jay McDowell and supervisor of football equipment David Cox have also remained as valuable members of the support staff.

GOOD GUMBO

Like the players, the coaching staff has to work together to be successful. Berry sees no problem there.

"It's a staff that doesn't have any egos," Berry said. "Coach Trott wants to see us do well on offense. I want to see him do well on defense. Consequently, we work real together."

Although there can be lively discussion, it's for the good of the team.

"You have all these different ideas," Berry said. "You have to be able to work within the compromised thought process, to find the ideal that comes out of the whole thing. You need everybody willing to jump on board the common theme.

"That's what I really appreciate about this staff. We have a lot of really bright, creative people that have had multiple experiences. But we've really pulled together in a common direction."

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